Global thought leaders confirm the power of collaboration

By Marc Lubner CEO of Afrika Tikkun

Global thought leaders confirm the power of collaboration

I recently had the honour of being invited to attend Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Management Global Empowerment Meeting (GEM); an event which has confirmed my conviction that the best way for us to address South Africa’s challenges is through a collaborative approach involving the private sector, government and civil society.

GEM is a highlight for those who are interested in making sense of the world we live in and finding solutions to the ills that are challenging society across the globe at this point in time. It’s no exaggeration to say that the speakers at this invite-only event include some of the world’s most distinguished thinkers. I found myself amongst such august company as South Africa’s own Pravin Gordhan (via Skype) and Ricardo Hausmann, Professor of the Practice of Economic Development at the Harvard Kennedy School and the Centre for International Development at Harvard University, as well as many other professors from the world’s most prestigious universities. The event is usually attended by a number of sitting presidents (historically including Columbian President Alvaro Uribe), all eager to learn from experts drawn from a number of fields – from psychology to economics.

Given the calibre of the candidates, I found it edifying to realise that many shared my view that we cannot address the plight of the disadvantaged by working in isolation. Since this is an issue that stretches across – and impacts – all areas of society, it takes all areas of society to find a solution.  A mayor from Bulgaria shared his example of the state working with schools and civil society to motivate garbage collection and recycling.

I recently issued a call for all sectors of South Africa to band together. As the private, public and civil society sectors, we all have our specific competencies. We all have our own areas of expertise. We all have our own strengths. But there are also areas where our knowledge is lacking. By pooling our efforts, we will be able to overcome these potential weaknesses, supplementing each other’s resources. We have the local knowledge and resources to rebuild our country but need to do this collaboratively, including input from organisations such as the Kennedy School of Management to guide us through iterative, dynamic learning processes.

It was reassuring to note that my belief in this approach was shared by a number of the pre-eminent speakers attending GEM. Of particular interest in this regard was journalist Robert Wright’s keynote address about human development and the expanding scope of cooperation. Wright noted that “cooperation pushes forward human development as it enables access to previously unreachable goals and ideas; it also allows for collective solutions to shared challenges and enables societies to band together in the pursuit for a greater ideal”.

Certainly, we’ve seen that this approach can bear fruit. Take Bolivia, for example: this highly divided, multi-ethnic society has witnessed a dramatic reduction in poverty and significant growth in economic indicator. From one of the poorest countries in Latin America (with 59% of Bolivians living in poverty, according to 2013 figures), it is on track to achieving its goal of eradicating poverty by 2025, thanks to the combined efforts of President Evo Morales, working with players within the national and global economy.  The Kennedy School was complimented for their role in assisting that country’s minister and business leaders for identifying an economic strategy appropriate for that country.

I believe that South Africa’s efforts could be similarly successful. We already have experience in bringing together diverse disciplines, as we did with Operation Phakisa. This project hinged on the collaboration of significant stakeholders, from government to labour, business, industry and civil society, to unlock economic potential. These parties recognised that they could achieve far more working together than they could in isolation.

What was interesting about the discussions at GEM was how they revealed the general feeling that it’s not only various areas of society that have a role to play in addressing social issues; players in disciplines across the board may be able to make a positive impact. For instance, how can the digitisation of business contribute to poverty eradication? What about design thinking? What about new financial techniques – what are their implications for reducing credit barriers?

At Afrika Tikkun, we’ve found that one of the most critical factors in reducing poverty and unemployment is by caring for, supporting, guiding and motivating individuals from cradle to career; making sure that there are sufficient inputs from Early Childhood Development level, through to ensuring the township youth are workplace ready and indeed are introduced to learnerships and the job market through relationships we create with corporate participants.

We’ve expressed our interest in working with other companies in this regard – and, as corroborated by my experience at GEM, such collaborations are the key to a future that might succeed in addressing the crises of youth unemployment.

We’re looking forward to seeing how many South African entities – whether in the corporate, public, labour or civil society sphere – are ready to take the plunge and are able to subjugate individual egos to work for the common good of all.

By Marc Lubner CEO of Afrika Tikkun